Category Archives: taxonomies

The anatomy of rape apologism

Trigger warning: This post discusses rape, rape apologism and quotes some utterly hideous examples of rape apologism.

A footballer named Ched Evans has been convicted of raping a young woman who was too drunk to give consent. What has followed is, of course, the foul chorus of rape apologism which ignites in an ugly crescendo every single fucking time. Each time this happens, the same set of tropes are trotted out as a means for somehow excusing the crime.

Victim-blaming

This is the first port of call for the rape apologist, and the prop on which all rape apologism ultimately rests. Here, rape apologists will do whatever they can to imply that the survivor somehow deserved what happened to them. Maybe they were too drunk, or wearing the wrong length of skirt. Whatever it is, apparently their actions somehow imply consent, as tweeter and repulsive shitstain @JosephWestley suggests:

In a Premier Inn with 2 footballers after a night out. Expecting tiddlywinks? And ruin a poor blokes life?!

Here, it is implied that being in a hotel room with some men is exactly the same as consent. Which it definitely isn’t.

“It wasn’t really rape”

With the survivor sufficiently blamed, it is time to move into suggesting that whatever happened, it definitely wasn’t rape. Sometimes, this can come from a risibly faux-naif pretence of not understanding the difference between non-consensual sex and rape, such as this from @jonnypotter:

Curious to find out more about the #chedevans rape conviction. Not premeditated but locked away for 5 years for lack of consent

Now, I’m sure most of us can explain to Jonny that lack of consent is rape, and that’s how he got convicted of rape for raping someone.

As the Ched Evans case involved a woman who had drunk too much alcohol (and, is, therefore, entirely responsible for everything that happens to her), this is also seen as “definitely not rape” in the eyes of rape apologists. They consider it ludicrous to suggest that alcohol could possibly impede consent, as  @IchWillNichts, who probably thinks he’s very funny, tweets:

Cops are busy tomorrow: hungover women who can’t remember how they got home will claim kidnapping against their taxi drivers.

Yes, Anthony. When drunk, the worst thing that can ever happen to you is a bit of confusion and regret.

Finally, there’s the distinction between “rape-rape” and not-actually-rape-due-to-lack-of-stranger-in-a-balaclava-leaping-out-of-a-bush. This can come in many guises, always with a hearty dash of misogyny. Sometimes, it can run concurrently with threats of violence against women, as evidenced by this thoroughly charming tweet from @BenWhitehorne:

 I hope that silly tamp gets properly raped one day

I literally have no words for someone who thinks that one rape is not enough, and wants to see the job done in a way which better fits his construction of rape.

Victim-smearing

Perhaps simply blaming the survivor isn’t enough, as those awful politically correct bra-burners are making some headway in pointing out that victim blaming simply doesn’t fly in 2012. The rape apologists therefore scramble all over themselves to make out that the survivor is an evil person with evil, evil ulterior motives. The most egregious example of this comes from a team-mate of the convicted rapist, who declared that the whole thing must be due to the survivor being a “money-grabbing little tramp“. In a two-for-one special, he also offers us a hefty dose of victim-blaming and a truckload of overt misogyny:

“If ur a slag ur a slag don’t try get money from being a slag (sic) … Stupid girls… I feel sick.”

The rape apologists have ran with this rather peculiar suggestion that somehow the woman got raped for money, despite none being able to offer any sort of coherent explanation as to how rape could possibly be lucrative.

Without a leg to stand on in this respect, the rape apologists decided nonetheless to name the survivor and set up a fake twitter account where “the survivor” boasted of getting lots of money and going on a lovely holiday.

Naming the survivor is a disgusting tactic. They may claim that it’s because it’s somehow unfair that rapists get named publicly while the survivors do not, but ultimately it is down to one thing: revenge. Because they believe it is all the survivor’s fault, they believe that somehow their football-playing hero is completely innocent and it’s time for some vigilante justice. They cast themselves as heroes, crusaders for truth, rather than the nasty little abject turds that they are.

The conspiracy theory

For some rape apologists, the outright misogyny is somewhat unpalatable, and so they take a different tack by theorising about some sort of stitch-up. In the Ched Evans case, they have fixated upon the fact that only one of the two accused footballers was convicted. Somehow, believing themselves to know more than the jury who heard all the evidence, they believe that some sort of miscarriage of justice has occurred, as suggested by Stuart Marshall:

Well,it’s a right hornets nest this one….I’ve been careful not to stigmatise the young lady in question but merely ask the question about how one guy walks,the other gets 5 ???? As for fb etc etc comments…well,I give up.THE JUDGE SAID SHE WASN’T “FIT” TO GRANT SEXUAL CONSENT.So,she’s sober one minute and it’s ok…..but then for his mate it’s not ok ? Get a life.

Often, they use the “I’m just asking these very reasonable questions” approach, though sometimes they will throw in a bit of victim blaming on top of it, like @Thomaskingsley:

To drunk to consent to #ChedEvans yet perfectly able to let Clayton McDonald smash you? Id like to see how the courts came to that decision?

Apparently, possible consent with one man is definite consent with all men.

These tropes of rape apologism happen every time. In the Roman Polanski case, the biggest focus was on how it definitely wasn’t rape, while with the Julian Assange case, all of the above applies in sickening great dollops.

And it’s not all right. None of it is. Looking at these comments, we see rape culture laid bare, all of its feeble excuses and nasty tricks converging simply because a woman had the gall to be raped by someone popular.


People I won’t have sex with, ever.

The stereotype of the sex-hating feminist fails to hold up to a cursory glance, let alone any degree of scrutiny. There are, however, some people I will never have sex with, ever…

Askmen.com

The festering frothing anuses at askmen have been at it again. Last spotted providing pick-up lines to demonstrate dickhead status, this time they think they have happened upon some feminist demands women secretly want to be ignored.

Askmen rather like the feminist struggle, they claim, because it means that there is finally the prospect of the holy grail of relationships: “the non-clingy girlfriend”. I’m assuming these dripping bellends would be lucky to have any girlfriend, clingy or otherwise, given that their attitude towards spending time with women is a grating display of tedious benevolent sexism.

Apparently, women secretly want men to carry their bags for them, pay for meals out, make decisions for them and get married, no matter how feminist they proclaim to be. Also, Askmen reckon that we women love to be objectified. Thank you for speaking for we little fragile women, Askmen.

Now, Askmen seem to have a little bit of a hang-up about what they call “chivalry”, but is more accurately termed benevolent sexism, with a plethora of articles with tips for demonstrating “gentlemanliness” and defending chivalry against those big nasty feminists. They seem to believe it’s the way into a woman’s knickers. It isn’t.

I have been on dates with “chivalrous” men, and it has rarely ended up in the bedroom, as it is irksome to be treated like a cross between a sickly pensioner and a small child. I have a cunt. That isn’t a disability. I am also, unsurprisingly, hugely turned off by people propping up oppressive systems. When called out on their behaviour, the chivalrous types invariably mansplain (they are always men) to me why it is all right, and mansplaining is about as sexy as mankinis.

I have, a few times, had sex with the bag-carrying, door-opening dinner buyers. Every time, the sex has been rubbish, as I’m not entirely sure they view women as people, but rather projects with a strict protocol.

So, for this outstanding contribution to furthering the cause of infuriating behaviour, Askmen, I am never going to have sex with you.

Unilad

Anyone clicking this next link requires a trigger warning. This little shitbag advocates rape. The writer  seems to believe he has written a humourous piece on “sexual mathematics“. He “mathematically” suggests that it is worth trying it on with a woman after a date, as 75% of women are likely to put out on the first date. He concludes with what will inevitably be defended as a “joke”, pointing out that 85% of rapes go unreported, implying that these are worthwhile odds to take.

This is yet another tired example of rape culture, albeit even closer to an outright suggestion of rape than usual. As an aside, it is also terribly written and thoroughly unreferenced, which leads me to question how this seeping bellend managed to get to university in the first place.

Remember that rapists are more likely to subscribe to rape myths, and the contribution to rape culture is a dangerous, dangerous thing. Having sex with those who trivialise and laugh at rape is ultimately never a good idea: to such individuals, consent is optional. For Unilad and his ilk, the chances of sex should be no more than zero.

The Activists

Touched upon in yesterday’s post on consensual power, BDSM and anarchism, tedious fuckwits The Activists think that sex is a waste of time.

Fuck that shit.

Brendan O’Neill

I think I may have mentioned this before, but Brendan O’Neill is a weeping syphilitic chode, a misogynist and all-round awful human being. He is the tiny infected penile avatar of rape culture, reeking of stale beer and a longing for the 90s. He hasn’t even done anything to specifically piss me off today, but it bears repeating and reminding every day.

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

Brendan O’Neill is a weeping syphilitic chode.


Christmas songs that can fuck off.

It has come to the time of year wherein we cannot leave the house without an aural assault of jingle-riddled festive musical tedium. While most are equally intolerable, some merit special mention for the implicit horrors they conceal. These are the Christmas songs that can fuck right off.

Rampant consumerism ahoy!

Capitalism has done a fine job of co-opting Christmas, turning it into a festival of panic-buying and receiving things you don’t really want. It is hardly surprising, then, that one of the most-covered traditional Christmas songs is The Twelve Days of Christmas. In this song, a person is given a series of increasingly ludicrous Christmas presents from a lover, presented through the medium of mind-numbing repetition. The nameless narrator of the song tells us nothing about their lover except that they buy a lot of presents. By the end of the song, the narrator has received 12 drummers drumming, 22 pipers piping, 30 lords a-leaping, 36 ladies dancing, 40 maids a-milking, 46 swans a-swimming, 42 geese a-laying, 35 gold rings, 32 calling birds, 30 French hens, 24 turtle doves and 12 partridges in pear trees. Implicit in this is that there must also be 40 cows to be milked, 46 small lakes for the swans to live in and at least 42 baby geese to soon be hatched. Quite where the narrator is going to keep all of the birds is not explored. Neither is it ever discussed that perhaps sending people as gifts might be slavery, or at the very least prostitution.

It’s immoral, it’s impractical, and it’s a vision of the future the capitalists would like to see. Its bastard lovechild is clearly visible in this godawful Littlewoods advert wherein a choir of children sing about how brilliant their mum is because she bought everyone presents.

Merry Christmas. Buy things. Debt is love.

A woman is left in a horrible, horrible relationship

Fairy Tale Of New York is the Christmas song it’s cool to say you like, because it’s kind of ironic, has a catchy Irish folky riff and Kirsty McColl died tragically early. It features bitter lyrics of a life of hardship and alcoholism, but ultimately, in some sort of Christmas miracle they arguing couple in the song realise that they love each other very much, right? Actually, not quite. Listen to the resolution of the song, at around 2.48. The woman laments that the man “took her dreams”. He replies that he kept them with him, made them his own and can’t possibly live life on his own.

Now, this would be all well and good if he wasn’t consistently portrayed as a complete and utter failure with verbally abusive tendencies. So that woman’s dream-eggs are stuck in a basket of piss, vinegar and toothless uselessness simply because the man won’t let her go. She never gets the chance to point this out, as it immediately becomes a matter of utmost urgency to report on the song choice of the New York Police Department and a bulletin on bell status. After this, we can only assume she overdoses on cocaine as white as Christmas snow, hollow-eyed on the tinsel-strewn rotting corpse of her lover.

Happy holidays!

Let me sing my privilege to the noble savages

Bono is an unmitigated cunt, and when people talk of “the good things he did”, often they refer to his charity work. Bono’s charity work includes the single Do They Know It’s Christmas, and therefore his unmitigated cunt status remains intact. This is a song in which a crowd of mostly white pop stars patronise an entire continent with startling factual inaccuracies.

Africa, as portrayed by the song, is a uniform desert populated entirely by starving people who need Middle England to ride in with their wallets and fix everything. There’s no snow in Africa, not even on top of mountains. There’s no rain, not even in the rich rainforests. There’s no rivers, not even the sodding Nile, the biggest bastard river in the world. The dear little noble savage Africans apparently don’t know it’s Christmas because Africa is such an insufferable shithole, not because many Africans probably couldn’t give two hoots about Christmas what with being Muslims.

It’s a terrible song, with a hefty dollop of misinformation. It may have been done with the best of intentions, but it’s pretty fucking racist, and it seems to have pissed off a few people. Nothing says traditional Christmas spirit like a bit of casual racism with a sing-al0ng chorus.

The date rape song

Baby It’s Cold Outside is another song which can be categorised under “Christmas romance” and tells a tale even more chilling than that recounted in Fairy Tale Of New York.

It’s about rape. Straight-up, it is a song about rape.

A woman tries to leave a man’s house. He gives her a drink. It has some drugs in it. While still compos mentis enough to argue, the woman argues that she cannot stay, says “no” several times, lists people she knows who might be worried about her and again mentions that she cannot leave. We leave her having finally been forced to into sex with coercive tactics and drugs. We’re supposed to find this rape cute because it’s all Christmassy, and who wouldn’t want to be raped by charming crooner Dean Martin? Listen to the lyrics of the song and tell me it is not about that.

As it’s Christmas, I shall conjure up the happiest possible ending for the story. The next morning, the woman goes home. Her family enquire as to why she appears to be shaken and upset. She explains what happened, and her mother, sister and vicious maiden aunt are appalled. These women call round at Dean Martin’s house, just as he is about to pounce upon another trusting, drugged woman and intervene. They then chop off Dean Martin’s raping penis and use it as a Christmas tree ornament. Everyone is very lucky in getting away with this cathartically criminal act, as the police are currently occupied with singing Galway Bay over the frozen husks of a pair of addicts. With support, Dean Martin’s victims find themselves able to move forward from the incident and engage in community activism to try to build a world without rape.

That’s the happiest possible ending, and we still have at least one rape in it. Fills the heart with Christmas cheer, that does.

The song that is surprisingly awesome

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus is a song which is intensely, intensely irritating. In all honesty, I would be happy if I never heard it ever again. The thing is, it has a surprisingly positive poly message hidden deep inside all of the twee faux-childish awe: the kid doesn’t give a shit that Mommy is necking with Father Christmas. In fact, the kid expresses dismay that Daddy can’t see the happy occasion.

Of course, Santa is Daddy, but the kid doesn’t know this. The kid is completely cool with Mommy playing with other people, and seems to think Daddy would be too. It is a glimpse at a non-conventional family set up which, for a twelfth of the year, gets played on loop. May the message one day sink in so we never have to hear that godawful song again.

Those are some of the worst, but let’s be straight here: all Christmas songs can fuck off.


…but is it evidence?

Have you ever found yourself in an argument with someone who claims they have “evidence” for something and will not shut up about it? Do you find yourself feeling uncomfortable with quarrelling with said “evidence”, even though you know the other person is wrong?

Here is a simple guide to spotting what is good evidence and what is not.

Is it even research?

This shouldn’t even need to be said, but I have seen a lot of people who believe a hypothesis to be evidence. It is not. This is particularly true in the case of evolutionary psychology: much of it is hypothesising without research. In other words, the authors publish a paper about what they think might be the case without actually testing whether it is the case.

It is perfectly possible to publish hypotheses without tests to stimulate discussion and debate. There is a whole journal dedicated to this! Medical Hypotheses has published some gems, including a particularly offensive paper about how “mongoloid” is an adequate name for people with Down’s Syndrome because like people from the Far East, people with Down’s Syndrome sit cross-legged and like eating food with MSG in it. Seriously. That was actually published.

Check whether the “evidence” contains data collection and statistical tests. If it does not, it is likely to be wild speculation, not evidence.

What sort of research is it?

This graphic is called the “pyramid of evidence“. It is a good way of looking at the best sorts of evidence in medicine, although it can be applied elsewhere. At the bottom is “background information”–upon which hypotheses are formed and, as seen above, sometimes published to stimulate debate. Moving up through the pyramid, we see better types of evidence: case studies, cohort studies, randomised controlled trials, and then, right at the top, systematic reviews. A systematic review is the “gold standard” of evidence. It takes all of the data for all of the tests of a theory, drug, medical intervention, etc, and puts it together into one data set, spitting out an “effect size” which tells us exactly how effective or “correct” the object in question is.

The differentiation between different types of research is important. Cohort studies are usually correlational: while it is not entirely true that correlation does not imply causation, correlational studies can only point us in the right direction. To properly establish causation, we need to manipulate some variables. Say, for example, we want to test whether exposure to feminist thought leads to lower levels of sexism. This can be tested by exposing one group of people to feminist thought, while having a control group of people who were not exposed to feminist thought. Before and after exposure, one would measure levels of sexism. This study has actually been done, and found that sexism decreased following exposure to feminism.

If the “evidence” being provided is one correlational study, then it might not be very good evidence. Ask if there’s any systematic reviews available, or at the very least an experimental study.

Quality of the evidence

On the evidence pyramid, there is a second dimension: quality of the research. Quality is made up of a number of important attributes, and it is important to check whether the evidence is good quality or not.

One crucial indicator is the sample. To get good results, the experiment needs to be conducted on a large group of people. The sample should, ideally, comprise of different people from different walks of life. Unfortunately, a lot of psychological research is conducted on psychology students, which throws a lot of it off-kilter, as students are younger and richer than most of the rest of us, and a lot wiser to taking psychological tests. Look and see who was in the study. It is a useful way of understanding how well the results apply to everyone else.

Another aspect of quality is the state of the comparison group. If there is no comparison group whatsoever, be very cautious: the evidence is probably terrible quality. I have seen many people try to draw conclusions about the differences between men and women based on studies of only men, or only women. The comparison group, if  present, needs to be, of course, comparable. If a study is testing the differences between men and women, and the women in the comparison group are less educated, for example, then the results could be down to education rather than gender.

For the sake of brevity, I point you towards this excellent (freely available) paper which teaches readers to critically evaluate the quality of a paper. Knowledge of this is power.

Popular science books are not evidence

Anyone can write and publish a book, particularly with the age of self-publishing. Even books from “big names” such as Steven Pinker are not good evidence, as books are not subject to peer review. Peer review is a process which is used in the academic community for checking whether a paper is valid: before anyone publishes the paper, it will be read through by several other experts in the same field of research. Often, the reviewers will want to see some of your data to verify your findings. They also, more often than not, send the paper back to you and tell you that perhaps you might want to reinterpret your findings or clarify certain bits of the research, or that you’ve made a massive honking error. They also ask you to draw attention to the limitations of your research, so readers can be aware of any of the possible pitfalls in the papers outlined above. It’s a lengthy process, but it means that  journals aren’t publishing any old crap.

For books, this is not the case. Often, the text is read by an editor with no experience in the field of research. If the writer fucks up somewhere, it won’t get caught and will be published anyway.

One example of this is the book The Spirit LevelThere are a few holes in the evidence presented in the book which are dealt with in the reply book The Spirit Level Delusion. The author of Delusion rightly criticises problems which appear in the book, though, unfortunately, is tilting at windmills: most of the peer-reviewed evidence upon which The Spirit Level is based stands up pretty well. It is only some of the bits that didn’t get peer-reviewed and were thrown into the book anyway which can be picked apart. Essentially, The Spirit Level stands up, but due to the sloppiness of the book publication process, it left itself with some open goals in the form of downright shoddy analysis, leaving many (wrongly) thinking the entire theory disproved.

If the only evidence linked is books, be wary. Demand to see peer-reviewed evidence instead. These days, a lot of it is available for free, and even if a paper is not, you can usually see the abstract.

I hope this guide will be helpful for would-be troll-slayers. Use your knowledge. Use it wisely. Happy hunting!


10 pickup lines that show you’re a dickhead

I shall begin by saying that I hate the notion of pick-up lines. I hate the notion of pick-up culture. I hate the notion that there is a large subculture which dictates that men must pick up women, and that this effect mushrooms into many men believing that the only way they can possibly spend time with a woman is by following these ludicrous rules and feeling like failures if it doesn’t work out for them.

It is not surprising then, that this article, 10 Pickup Lines That Work, pissed me off somewhat.

As its title suggests, it presents ten pick-up lines that apparently work. Unfortunately, little detail is given as to how these techniques were evaluated: it all appears to be anecdotal evidence. In order to adequately test the efficacy of these pick-up lines, one would need to administer the pick-up line to a large sample of recipients, ideally pitted against a control pick-up line with already-known effectiveness.

The unscientific and misleading title aside, these pick-up lines are absolutely awful, and if a man came up to me and started saying any of these things, I would, at the very kindest, decide never to have sex with him ever. At the very kindest.

Our top ten tips come in a number of varieties. All of them are pretty fucking sexist. All of them, in order to work, rely on a vision of society that wants radically throwing: that where it is a man’s responsibility to “approach” and “pick up” a woman. That society wants killing with fire. And so do these pick-up lines.

Type 1: Assault a woman

Remember how, in the popular construction of the Stone Age, men hit women round the head and dragged them by the hair for dating purposes? This pick-up procedure is still alive and well according to Proven Efficacious Pick Up Lines 10 and 4.

Tip 10 involves a bit of minor grabbing followed by the threat of further assault, saying “You’re going to kiss me or I’m going to punch you in the nose!”. Tip 4 is somewhat more direct in the violence and is, for some peculiar reason, titled “be modest”.

As she walks by at a bar, pinch the side of her butt (not hard, but enough to get her attention). She should be mad and say something negative about you. Then you say:

“Sorry, I thought that girls like you would just ignore a normal guy like me. Did it hurt? Maybe another drink will ease the pain.”

I suppose there is some modesty in there. Right next to the sexual assault.

Type 2: Be bafflingly creepy

Ninjas use smoke bombs. Stage hypnotists bark out a strange range of conflicting orders. Confusion as a tactic is also incredibly popular among men who subscribe to the cult of the pick-up line. Utilising confusion seems to comprise a large chunk of the list of useful techniques, ranging from Tip 9 (Stare straight at her, and smile broadly while slowly advancing towards her) to Tip 7 (the thoroughly puzzling “nice shoes, want to make your parents proud?”) through to Tip 5 (which is not, as it says, being sarcastic, but asking a woman’s favourite colour knowingly).

Apparently, women are “always thankful” after being completely thrown by a total non-sequitur. The explanation for how this works is as bamboozling as the line itself, and I still don’t want to have sex for the author, providing anecdotal evidence against the efficacy of this approach.

Type 3: Be cocky in a flat-out sexist way

The word “cocky” contains the word “cock”, so it’s hardly surprising that cockiness implies a performance of the most unpleasant aspects of masculinity. The pick-up lines of this type tend to include displaying a massive amount of sexism, in the hope that the woman on the receiving end finds it funny.

The least offensive is Tip 6, which involves telling a woman she should buy you a drink as she has been “checking you out”. Tip 3 is titled with the rather innocuous “find something you have in common”, which is actually very good advice for men who are interested in meeting and forming relationships with women. What is not good advice is what follows: “convey[ing] it to her with a well-balanced delivery of cockiness and playful insult”.

Then there’s Tip 8, wherein men are directed to use a classic street-harassment tactic: “Hey girl, why you being all sexy ‘n shit?”

The last time someone said that to me, I considered wearing their testicles as earrings. The only thing that stopped me was the fact my earlobes can’t really support pendulous accessories.

Type 4: Assume she wants a boyfriend

Traditional gender roles hold that men want sex and women want a boyfriend. Traditional gender roles are, of course, a big heap of shitting arses.

The readers of askmen.com apparently missed this memo and so voted, as their top pick-up line, the following:

“You know what material this is?” [Grab your shirt]

“Boyfriend material”

Unlike most of the pick-up lines, this one does not come with an anecdote about how use of this line resulted in fifty young nubile nyphomaniacs immediately losing their knickers, “proving” that the approach works. It is just printed there, on its own, and presumed to work.

It is presumed to work, because that is, of course, what women are presumed to want. There is absolutely no concept that women might not be interested in the concept of a boyfriend and might just want a shag. Target is woman. Target wants boyfriend. Hunter disguises self as boyfriend.

I suppose that perhaps, I would not mind a shirt made out of ex-boyfriend material. As long as the material was the tanned hide of an ex-boyfriend.

…and the one that actually works

Surprisingly, Tip 2 contains some actual, decent advice for starting a conversation with a stranger. Unfortunately, it is placed under the heading of “be a gentleman”, which is unfortunate, as “being a gentleman” generally involves subscribing to benevolent sexism.

The “lines” presented are very good advice, though. They involve introducing yourself, saying hello or simply having a conversation with the other person to see how you get on. This advice is not really gendered in the slightest: it is a good approach to initiating contact with someone you don’t know that we can all follow fairly easily. As the tip begins, “no pick-up line is the best pick-up line”.

And that is completely true. Fuck pick-up culture. It is outmoded, outdated, and we would all be better off if we consigned it to the dustbin of history along with the bourgeoisie, Mensheviks and Trotskyism.  Oh, and of course, patriarchy.

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People sometimes send me things, presumably so they can find themselves amused by my blind rage. This gem was a little gift from @jedweightman.

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Edit: I’ve asked askmen.com to explain why they think the violent tips are acceptable. I will update if I get an explanation.

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Update 11/11/11: Askmen.com has not replied, but have quietly changed the tips advocating assault and threat (10 and 4) to more innocuous ones (introduce yourself and show off, respectively). This is a step in the right direction, but nowhere near good enough. They need to formally apologise for the earlier version of the article, as is good practice.


Why I’m confused about #wearethe99

I’ll start this by saying that I actually have no beef with Occupy Wall Street, despite the fact this is my second blogpost in as many days where I express criticism of the movement.

Today, I am annoyed by the We Are The 99 Per Cent slogan. Specifically, I am pissed off for statistical reasons.

The number is arbitrary. It comes some 2007 figures: that 1 per cent of Americans control 43% of financial wealth–this leaves everyone else in the 99%. This is an interesting figure and highlights a shocking wealth disparity of which many were previously unaware. And yet, the 99% cutoff is arbitrary. In fact, if one moves figures around, an even more interesting picture emerges.

The top 5% of earners in the USA control 72% of financial wealth. Just shifting focus from “we are the 99 per cent” to “we are the 95%” highlights an even more shocking disparity: almost three quarters of financial wealth is controlled by a tiny fraction. Even more interesting: bottom 80% of earners in the US control just 7% of financial wealth. That figure is thoroughly staggering: the vast majority of Americans control a completely negligible sum.

If one looks at who is in the 1%, another interesting picture emerges. Less than 14% of the top 1% are in the finance industry: it is hardly the cartel of bankers that the slogan portrays. In fact, quite a few Wall Street workers would probably find themselves in the 99%: the earning cutoff to be in the top percentile is just under $600 000, while the average salary on Wall Street is $396 000. By shifting from “we are the 99%” to 95% or 80%, this somewhat embarrassing little fact disappears.

And so I wonder why they alighted on 99% rather than 95% or 80%. These figures are still huge, and these figures still cover almost everyone. The number makes little sense to me, and a statement about distribution of wealth in the USA can be better made with different figures. Even by revising it down slightly–to the threshold for statistical significance–the statement can be made, and can be made better. I genuinely can’t see any good reason for sticking with 99%.

There are also two elephants in the room regarding how the “we are the 99%” figure is used, statistically speaking. Firstly, it neglects broader issues regarding race and gender wealth inequalities. This is a crucial issue which requires tackling head-on, and yet it is handwaved away with a broad-brush slogan, again sacrificing what could be a very important statement to make in favour of mass appeal.

The second is a vast issue. The “we are the 99%” applies to US-specific, not global inequality. If one looks at global inequality, earners of the US median wage suddenly find themselves in the top 1%. They are no longer the “moral majority”, they are part of that tiny fraction which controls most of the wealth. If Occupy Wall Street is truly part of a global movement, this issue needs to be addressed: that what is a relatively vast majority in the USA is suddenly a tiny minority of super-wealthy in the world sphere.

Ultimately, when one looks at the numbers, “we are the 99%” is a slogan, and not much more. It could make its point better by simply shifting its own arbitrary cutoff, to lose no mass appeal. Then, by thinking globally, perhaps it can make a difference.

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Thanks to @unknownj and @interama for pointing out global figures, and @samdodsworth for the breakdown of the top 1%.


When ‘shutting down debate’ is nothing of the kind

Following my post about a thoroughly misguided lawsuit against LSE, the comments thread devolved into a display of off-topic nonsense, wherein the issues I highlighted and the questions I wished to highlight were not discussed adequately, in favour of what three commenters felt more comfortable talking about.

I took action, as the thread deviated from relevance. And, of course, I was met with the traditional cry. I was ‘shutting down debate’.

Those who have spent more than five minutes on the internet will be familiar with this charge. Those who have seen it in action will also be well aware that often, when it is employed, it is hardly as a reaction to Stalinist censorship. Indeed, it usually comes when someone becomes sick of banging their head against a wall, or wishes to get away from a troll firing personal attacks, or even when someone expresses the desire to have an on-topic conversation.

When used like this, it is a red herring. Usually, it’s a very effective red herring; it rings with implications of totalitarianism. The target becomes The Party, or Norsefire. It’s like invoking Godwin’s Law without having to mention Nazis at all. When the howl of ‘you’re shutting down debate’ goes up, what is usually meant is ‘let me say whatever I want, you big smelly Hitler! I want to look like I’m winning’.

The thing is, sometimes ‘shutting down debate’ is the only way that a debate can actually happen. It’s pretty hard to discuss, say, the perfect burrito, when someone keeps cropping up and shouting that we should be talking about quesadillas instead. Quesadillas are great. But we’re talking about burritos here. It’s also not possible to have the burrito conversation if someone is loudly calling everyone a cunt for liking burritos.

Far from shutting down debate, silencing Captain Quesadilla is sometimes the only way the conversation can be had. The aim is not to develop a burrito-based echo chamber, but, rather, to discuss a focused topic. If a passionate, yet polite, row breaks out over the merits of refried versus black beans, it’s relevant.

Before writing this post, I googled the term ‘shutting down debate’, to see if anyone had written a piece like this. Maybe they have. I didn’t make it past the first two pages, where I saw charges of shutting down debate levelled at gay people, Jews, black people and the nebulous, miscellaneous ‘left’. It made me wonder, why is this phrase so ubiquitous?

I’m not saying that all instances of the phrase ‘you’re shutting down debate’ are used so that somebody can continue shitting all over the world with prejudice, as it’s not true in many instances; only those of hate speech.

In the remaining instances, it is usually a reaction to being told to focus. We all have our pet causes and things which interest us, things we feel more comfortable discussing. These things are not always relevant. And we do not need to opine at every given instance, when our opinions are irrelevant. For example, I don’t typically spend family meals articulating the merits of anarcho-syndicalism, as it’s not relevant to my mum’s holiday photos. My mum is not shutting down debate. She’s showing me her holiday snaps.

There are times, of course, when debate is shut down. It does not usually look like someone closing a comment thread on a blogpost, nor does it look like moderating out off-topic comments, nor a block on Twitter.

Shutting down debate looks like Trafigura’s super-injunction which prevented discussion even in Parliament. Shutting down debate looks like the Prime Minister’s desire to regulate social networking. Shutting down debate looks like the attempt to ban Nick Griffin from Question Time; he’s welcome to his silly, wrong opinions.

Griffin on Question Time is a prime example: the episode was dedicated to immigration, so it was all right that he was perpetually farting on about immigration. Had the topic changed to, say, recycling, though, and he still kept banging on about immigration, he’d be off topic. I’d hope he’d be told to shut the fuck up. And he’d likely howl about shutting down debate when nothing of the kind had happened.

Fear not the charges of shutting down debate. Often one is ensuring the debate can happen at all.


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